Nigerian, Two Others Jailed In Houston Over Medicare Fraud
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan 05, (THEWILL) - A Nigerian, Obisike Nwankwo, Dr. Howard Grant, and John Lachman, all residents of Houston were yesterday sentenced to 21 months in prison, 41 months in prison, and 26 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in a multi-million dollar durable medical equipment (DME) Medicare fraud scheme, the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services (HHS).
In addition to the prison terms, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Atlas in the Southern District of Texas sentenced Grant, Nwankwo and Lachman each to three years of supervised release. Grant was ordered to pay $121,742 in restitution jointly and severally with co-defendants. Nwankwo was ordered to pay $29,052 in restitution jointly and severally with co-defendants. Lachman was ordered to pay $1.14 million in restitution jointly and severally with co-defendants.
Grant and Nwankwo were both convicted by a federal jury after a two-week trial in the Southern District of Texas in May and June 2010. Grant was convicted of two counts of health care fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and Nwankwo was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud . Lachman pleaded guilty prior to the trial to one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud.
Evidence at trial established that Onward Medical Supply, a Houston-area DME company, billed Medicare for fraudulent DME, including power wheelchairs and orthotic devices, beginning in 2003 and continuing until late 2009. In addition to the three co-conspirators sentenced today, one additional individual was convicted at trial, and seven individuals have pleaded guilty for their participation in various parts of Onward’s Medicare fraud scheme, including Onward’s owner, Doris Vinitski.
According to evidence presented at trial, Vinitski worked with Medicare biller and co-defendant John Nasky Okonkwo and others in late 2008 and early 2009 to submit fraudulent claims to Medicare identifying Dr. Howard Grant as the prescribing physician for the DME. The claims were submitted in several groups in November 2008. Evidence presented at trial showed that Grant learned about the fraudulent prescriptions prior to Onward’s submission of the claims to Medicare. Evidence at trial also showed that, upon learning of the prescriptions, Grant asked Vinitski for $10,000 in exchange for allowing the fraud scheme to continue. Okonkwo agreed to plead guilty for his participation in the scheme. Following the verdict, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Atlas ordered Grant to surrender his medical license and his Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) number and to stop all billing to Medicare and Medicaid.
Evidence at trial established that Nwankwo acted as a delivery driver for Onward and several other DME companies and that he delivered DME such as power wheelchairs and orthotics for Onward to beneficiaries who did not want or need the equipment. One beneficiary testified at trial that when Nwankwo tried to deliver a power wheelchair to her, she told him to get off her front step or she would call the police.
Lachman managed the Onward fraud scheme in the early years, until the end of 2006. During that time, he created fraudulent patient files, managed payments of kickbacks to recruiters and delivery drivers, and operated the day-to-day business of Onward.
The sentences were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno of the Southern District of Texas; Richard C. Powers, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI’s Houston office; Special Agent-in-Charge Mike Fields of the Dallas Regional Office of the HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), Office of Investigations; and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on behalf of the Texas Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU).
The cases were prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Jennifer L. Saulino, O. Benton Curtis III and Nicola J. Mrazek of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The cases were investigated by the FBI, HHS-OIG and MFCU.
The cases were brought as part of the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, supervised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas and the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. Since their inception in March 2007, Strike Force operations in seven districts have obtained indictments of more than 850 individuals who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for more than $2.1 billion. In addition, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working in conjunction with the HHS-OIG, are taking steps to increase accountability and decrease the presence of fraudulent providers.